CHAPTER ONE: A COLLECTION OF TROUBLES
Rhys stood absolutely still in the middle of the pavement. At first he was surprised to see that there were no lights on in his house, and then he saw it – one solitary candle in the parlour window.
His grandmother always called the front room the parlour and when he’d asked why, she’d answered, ‘We called it that when I was little and it was the best room in the house.’
Rhys had laughed when she had told him that in the parlour her mam kept the piano, a bookcase, two easy chairs and a chaise longue filled with horse hair that squeaked whenever anyone sat on it.
‘My brothers told me there was a real horse in there and I was squashing it.’ Gran had sniffed before saying, ‘Of course, I knew they were lying, but I wasn’t sure for a long time.’ Everything in the room, she said, was covered with white sheets, only removed at Christmas or when very important guests, like the chaplain or relatives from a distance, visited.
Rhys was puzzled. ‘What’s a chaise longue?’ he asked his gran.
She explained, ‘Well, nowadays they’re a bit like a settee but with only one arm rest so someone can stretch out for a sleep. We’d laugh, my brothers and me, because my dad’s legs were so long they hung over the end.’ Laughing quietly to herself she added, ‘One day my mother tickled his feet and he jumped up, shouting. Oh, he was so angry that we all ran away and hid in case he thought it was one of us.’ And that is why Rhys now called it the parlour, a much grander name, somehow, than the sitting room.
As he watched the candle flicker, Rhys walked slowly towards it and then stopped. At first he thought that his mother had run out of one pound coins for the meter. It wouldn’t be the first time; he knew there were times when the money from the Benefits Office didn’t quite stretch to the next payment. The factory where his father had worked had closed down over five months before and despite his making every effort, there was no work to be found in or around the Welsh valley.
There was something about the candle that Rhys didn’t understand. Why was it there this evening? He felt sure it was a message of some sort. As different ideas came into his head he felt himself shiver as if something awful had or was about to happen, but he had no idea what. Perhaps, he told himself, mam’s pride and joy, the television, had broken down. Or – and his spirits lifted a little and he smiled to himself and started to walk towards his home – maybe it was good news, like gran was coming to stay for a few days or, even better, dad had got a job.
Twilight had given way to darkness and it seemed to Rhys that the mountain, Pen-y-Bryn, loomed over and seemed to be bearing down on the once mining village. The neat row of terraced houses appeared to be drawing together menacingly; gone was the ever-welcoming glow they usually gave out. The dim street lights added to the gloom around him and it had begun to rain, a gentle, cold, penetrating rain, so that for the last few yards Rhys ran.
When he reached his door a chill came over him. He hunched his shoulders and put his hands in his pockets reluctant to enter, convinced that something terrible had happened. Reaching for the key pinned inside his jacket, he hesitated. As he put it in the lock he felt a tightening in his tummy and a sudden desperate feeling that he just might wet his jeans. Slowly, he pushed the door open, waited, then reached in quickly to switch on the hall light. Immediately, all the familiar objects seemed to shine out a welcome.